Why Soccer Fans are Watching City Council Meetings

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My name is Jason Davis and I have a confession to make: I’m addicted to watching city council meetings. Sometimes for cities that I don’t even live in. I’m not sure exactly when it started, but I think it was sometime after 1996.

Why do I do this? I’d like to say it’s because city council meetings are a marvel of modern democracy, a place of wonder where electricity fills the air as councilmembers debate the local issues of the day, problems get solved, things get done. But I’d be lying to you. City council meetings are devoid of fun—it’s as if they’ve been deliberately designed to dissuade anyone from tuning in and staying awake long enough to pay attention. So why do I keep watching, you ask? It’s simple: I’m a soccer fan.

Being a soccer fan in the United States, at least a soccer fan of the MLS-loving variety, means finding yourself taking a perverse interest in the activities of the democratically elected bodies that run cities from coast-to-coast. This is because city councils are the last stop on the path that a soccer-specific stadium takes to getting approved for construction. Local government, even when a team intends to pay for construction itself, is the ultimate arbiter on whether or not a stadium project gets off the ground.

And this being soccer in America, a sport that for decades struggled to lay down roots in any meaningful way, each and every attempt to build a new venue specifically for the game is a dramatic event that captures the imaginations of fans across the country. It doesn’t matter where you live; if there’s a stadium plan being considered by the council in an MLS city, it draws attention. Your city could be home to the next soccer-specific success story.

Even if you don’t live in an MLS or would-be MLS city, there’s still a collective, community feeling to the growth of soccer here, and what’s good for one city is ultimately good for all. But first the city council has to vote yes.

Here is a typical city council exchange:

_Councilperson A: What is the financial impact of this addendum to bill eleventy-six-point-three-A?

Councilperson B: I don’t currently have that information.

Councilperson C: I may have that somewhere. [shuffles some papers]

Councilperson A: Let’s table that issue for the moment, but I’d like to come back to the question of funding through the general …_

The Washington, D.C., city council is the latest to consider a plan for a soccer-specific stadium. If anyone in MLS needs a new stadium, it’s D.C United. The original MLS franchise has spent its entire existence inhabiting the crumbling edifice of RFK Stadium, a building so decrepit the various critters that roam its bowels are just as famous (if not more so) than the players who roam its field.

There are many other details pertinent to the proceedings, not the least of which is a major change in mechanism the city plans to use to procure the land for a stadium on D.C.’s Southwest waterfront. If you live in Washington, or have a vested interest in the way the city spends its money, you might care. Otherwise, the details will make you doze off. The only thing that matters, at least to the connected American soccer collective, is whether or not the bill passes, whether or not the stadium gets built, and MLS grows stronger.

And so I tuned in to the streaming webcast of something called the “Committee of the Whole” on Wednesday afternoon, anxious to see whether the revised bill would pass. If you asked me why I did it at the time, I’m sure I’d give some pat answer about wanting to be witness to a major moment in the growth of soccer in America, with the long saga of D.C.’s stadium effort providing even more reason to do so (in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I live in the D.C. metropolitan area). I can always justify my addiction.

I immediately regretted the decision. I don’t remember falling asleep, exactly, but I do recall watching the proceedings in a sort of haze that descended after a few minutes of listening to middle aged people talk past each other.

By the time I emerged from the haze, the bill had passed. Or at least I think the bill passed, though that doesn’t mean it’s done winding its way through the process. A crew of black-and-red clad workers did not immediately start digging the foundation of D.C. United’s new home. Instead, there appear to be more votes coming.

I, a rational adult of reasonable intelligence, have willingly watched city council meetings in Portland, Houston, Orlando, Washington, and other cities I’m probably forgetting. And I’ll probably do it again, even though I know I’ll regret those too.

Such is the plight of the soccer fan in America. At least until everybody has a stadium. Maybe by then I’ll have learned my lesson.

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